Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yeago on "the gnostic and antinomian devolution of contemporary Protestantism"

     "If it is true that the law oppresses simply because of its formal character as ordered demand, then the converse would seem to hold:  anything with the formal character of ordered demand oppresses.  That is to say, anything which proposes some particular ordering of our existence or calls for a determinate response from us will be perceived as being, simply as such, the oppressive law from which the gospel delivers us.  And since the gospel's liberating character is defined in terms of its antithesis to the law, it will not be our sinful abuse of the law and hostility to the commandment, and God's wrath against us on that account, from which the gospel liberates us.  Rather, the gospel will liberate us from the situation of having to hear commandment at all, from having to reckon with any word whatsoever which has the formal character of ordered demand.
     "Thus the law oppresses because it proposes a determinate ordering of our existence and calls for a specified response, and it follows that the gospel liberates because it delivers from determinate order and specified response. . . ."
"already in the tough-minded [Werner] Elert[, even,] we are [therefore] well on the way to contemporary tender-minded rhetoric about all those 'hurting people' who need more than anything else to be liberated from all order and absolved of all expectations by the redemptive 'inclusivity' of the antinomian church."

     David S. Yeago, "Gnosticism, antinomianism, and Reformation theology:  reflections on the costs of a construal," Pro ecclesia 2, no. 1 (Winter 1993):  41, 42 (37-49).  But the costs are not just ethical; they are also dogmatic (pp. 43 ff.).  For "Within a horizon structured by the absolute antithesis of law and gospel, of form and freedom, dogma must be suspect simply as such, as a form of that oppression and bondage from which the gospel is to liberate us" (43):
     It is not only that from within a theological universe structured by the absolute antithesis of law and gospel the very idea of dogma is finally inadmissable. . . . The problem lies even deeper.  If the saving gift of God through the gospel is deliverance from form, liberation from order and the call for order, then the God of the gospel cannot himself be a God who has 'taken form' concretely in history.  When the law/gospel distinction is absolutized, it becomes at least plausible to regard the triune God, the God who is conclusively self-bestowed and self-identified in the particular history of Jesus, as the oppressive, hidden God of the law, the God who enslaves and torments the human spirit.  As Robert W. Jenson has written, 
Surely, it is said, God . . . cannot be Jewish, or male, or a figure from a long-past century, or an apocalyptic seer, or hung up on legal commandments, or . . . Whatever may be true of the human individual Jesus, it is said, surely the 'Christ' of Christianity must be a 'Christ principle' or a 'Logos-in-itself' or something similarly metaphysical and malleable, that is not Jewish, or male, or crucified, or blessed with a mother, or hung up on righteousness, or etc.
     It matters little what feature of the particularity of God's self-bestowal is singled out for offense; the deeper offense is that God should take form in history at all.
     The logic is simple:  if form is enslavement, then a God who took form in history would be an enslaving God.  The liberating God must therefore be a formless God, a God at most dialectically related to any particular form, a God who is everywhere and nowhere, whose faceless elusiveness frees us from the tyranny of the particular and ordered and definitive.  This is the God whom, we are told, we must not 'limit,' that is, whom we must not confess as definitively self-given and self-identified in Jesus Christ.  This is the God whom we know only in an endless sequence of throwaway 'images' whose utility consist solely in their novelty, their capacity to shake us loose from familiar forms.  This is the God with whom we commune only on an endless 'spiritual journey,' an infinite quest with no goal and no purpose except sheer ceaseless movement beyond form [43-44].